The Supreme Court has ruled that bail conditions of an undertrial prisoner cannot be made so onerous as to disable him to avail of the relief and make him suffer further imprisonment.
A bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi waived off the condition of paying Rs 70 lakh imposed upon a priest for release on bail, M D Dhanapal, by the Madras High Court.
He was told to pay Rs 10 lakh each to the family members of seven pilgrims who died on April 21 in a stampede outside the temple of Lord Sri Vaalavaikkum Vandithurai Karuppannasamy at Muthiyampalayam Village in Tiruchirapalli District, Tamil Nadu.
Dhanapal challenged the Madurai bench's orders passed on April 30 and May 16, which made him liable to pay the victims as he was arrested following registration of an FIR after the incident.
In his plea, the petitioner argued before the top court that he was a priest in a relatively small temple with little income at Tiruchirapalli, and did not have the requisite funds to fulfill the bail conditions.
The top court said the high court cannot be faulted for its orders, as it was his counsel who offered to pay Rs 10 lakh to the family members of each deceased pilgrim.
“If the petitioner lacks funds, undertaking ought not to have been given to the court,” it said, adding, “Be that as it may, it is well-settled that bail cannot be made conditional upon heavy deposits beyond the financial capacity of an applicant for bail.”
However, after going through the FIR, the court added it appeared that an accident took place when “Pidikkas were being distributed on the occasion of Chithira Pavurnami Festival” and the petitioner was not even named in the FIR, so it did not look like he was responsible for the death.
“There appears to have been suffocation due to congestion and rush. Even otherwise, it does not appear incarceration of the petitioner is necessary for investigation or that the petitioner will evade the process of law or tamper with evidence if set at liberty,” the bench said, allowing his plea for removing the condition for payment to the victims' family members.
The court also noted that the state government and the central government had already paid Rs one lakh and two lakhs respectively to the victims.